What Luck It Is to Be a Tiger in Gaza
Israel allows animals to leave the Strip; people, not so much. Not so much at all.
A tiger, turtles, an ostrich, monkeys and other animals were rescued safely from their double captivity in the Gaza Strip and moved to zoos in other countries and the West Bank city Tul Karm a few weeks ago. This is the only good news from the most crowded prison in the world, and that is not meant cynically. Animals were born free. And if they have been captured for the enjoyment of children, at least let them have some space, and not die slowly from starvation and thirst.
The chief warden – the coordinator of government activities in the territories (COGAT) – excelled in purveying the good news in press releases, photographs and interviews. “This time the monkeys were also transferred because of the poor living conditions in the Strip, which do not allow optimum care suitable to their natural needs,” the coordinator’s press release noted at the beginning of the week. It summarized, in the name of two officials who coordinated the exit of the animals: “Concern for the animals and the understanding that outside the Strip they would receive much better medical care, which they deserve, leads us to work for this goal again and again.”
The monkeys are allowed out, but people are not, the Gazans concluded. Their sense of humor – like their creativity – has not been lost. But Gaza continues to drown. Over the past six months Israel has tightened the already draconic exit prohibitions, knowing that the mantra “Hamas takes advantage of those who leave,” will satisfy the Israeli public. The reports by Physicians for Human Rights and the human rights group Gisha of cancer patients who are not allowed out for treatment, and of businesspeople whose requests to leave are turned down, engender far less interest than the pride that COGAT takes in its humane treatment of animals.
The chief wardens apparently lack any literary sense. They were not aware of the echoes of George Orwell’s “1984” in their press release. As executor of the government policy of closure, the office of the coordinator also bears responsibility and blame for the creation of “poor conditions” and lack of “good medical treatment” for the inhabitants of Gaza. For the past 25 years, Israel has worked to disconnect them from the political solution of a Palestinian state and from the rest of their people and the world. Israel prohibits them from working to support themselves (no export from Gaza is allowed, production is impossible, more jobs cannot be created) and denies them freedom of movement.
Gaza is mired in sewage because Israel does not allow pumps to be brought in, or construction materials and other essential raw materials to expand existing sewage treatment facilities and build new ones. Its water is undrinkable because Israel imposes an autarchic water regime on Gaza (meaning Gaza must make do with its own coastal aquifer, which has been blighted for years now from over-pumping, sewage and seawater seepage), instead of joining it to the countrywide water grid and giving it water to replace the volume it robs from the Palestinians in the West Bank. It is not hard to guess how much malnutrition, and how many parasites and other diseases are created by the combination of poverty, unemployment and environmental pollution.
Medical care in Gaza is poor – for people, not only animals – for several reasons: Doctors are not allowed to go out for continuing education; Israel does not let in advanced medical equipment or proper maintenance of what they have; the economic siege and Ramallah-Gaza rift prevent the entry of sufficient equipment and medicines. To the poor quality of the environment, add the dangerous cumulative impact of tens of thousands of tons of advanced ammunition, smart and stupid, that Israel has rained down on Gaza over the past 15 years; add, too, the unknown but certain and frightening impact of dangerous materials soaked into the Gazan earth. And this is before we touch on the mental health of people who know they exist only on the margins of life, without hope for change any time soon, because the world that prides itself on its enlightenment stands idly by.